After a long, hot day of playing outside, I sit my son on the couch. He gets upset, not quite ready to settle down and certainly not ready to be confined to a chair. But I kneel before him and carefully take his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sneakers off, the only ones at the store with enough room for his wide, tall feet. He smiles. I peel his socks off, and gently blow on his sweaty feet. He giggles, a sound of genuine happiness escaping his throat. I gently pick the sock lint from between his toes, and give his arches little kisses. At this point, we're both laughing and our eyes meet briefly and in that moment, the whole world shines.
Love is a feeling, an action, a reaction. The word itself doesn't even begin to describe the deep emotion involved in love, the effect it has on every part of our being. That is why I do not share the sentiment I see so often repeated in support groups for mothers of children with autism, the desire to not only tell our children that we love them and have them understand it, but to have them say it back to us.
My son says "I love you" every day. He tells me he loves me first thing in the morning when he runs into my room and throws himself on top of me, like the time we spent away from each other over the night was far too long. He burrows into my chest, but raises his head to look at my face often to make sure it's true, that we're finally together again after long hours asleep. Then, he slowly reaches to the night stand and grabs my glasses gently and hands them to me. When I smile and accept them, he has this look of pride and accomplishment, like he prepared me for the whole day ahead and helped me become the me I'm supposed to be. In a way, he's right.
I tell him I love him every day, too. I tell him I love him when I rush to him in his time of tantrum and swiftly pick him up, kissing away his tears and petting his warm, thick hair. I tell him I love him when I hold him close and rock him gently in his chair and sing his favorite songs. I tell him I love him when I make him banana pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast, when I'm gently spoon feeding him lunch, when I tickle his arm pits at bath time. I tell him I love him when we run around the backyard and sit in the sandbox together, or when I put his favorite movie on during a rainy day. When I blow on his hot, sweaty feet and kiss them even when they're stinky.
The weakest expression of love is to tell it; the most powerful and profound expressions of love are found in the attitudes we have for each other during the mundane and the awesome, the quality of the time we spend together, how we talk to one another, touch one another, and connect with one another. We don't need to hear it, we just need to experience it.
Whether or not our children have a word for what they feel, they feel it when we show it. That's what is important. I feel deeply loved, and I make sure that he reaps all the benefits of the endless supply of love I have for him. That's enough for me.